Friday, 1 May 2015

Shebeen Queen

As a freelance illustrator lone-wolfing it from a studio at home, I try to push myself to get connected with as many local creative and business groups and events as I can. It’s just healthy to get that feedback from other people and pop the stay-at-home bubble.

I’ve been going to Draw North West in Manchester since its launch in 2011, it’s a great hub of talent that meet every two months to guzzle a few beers and scribble some scribbles. This year the group were asked to produce a number of risograph prints for Shebeen Festival in May. If you don’t know what a Shebeen is (I didn’t!) it comes from the Irish “síbín” and was originally a term for an illicit bar where alcohol would be sold without a licence. The term has spread from its origins in Ireland, to Scotland, Canada, the US, England, Zimbabwe, English-speaking Caribbean, Namibia, and South Africa; and we fed off the term to submit posters to the exhibition.

After a little research, the idea that really stuck with me was the term “Shebeen Queen”.

“Originally shebeens were operated illegally by women who were called Shebeen Queens.  The Shebeen Queens would sell homebrewed alcohol and provided patrons with a place to meet and discuss political and social issues. Currently, shebeens are legal in South Africa and have become an integral part of South African urban culture. “

There’s so much illustrative potential and visual loveliness that could come from that, and I’m a fan of illustrating powerful lady characters in my work.  In the illustration I’ve hinted at the roots of the Shebeen bars with shelves full of brewed-up jars and atmospheric string-lights, whilst focusing on a strong Shebeen Queen character heading up the business.

As part of the process we were limited to using two colours: red and black. I took a bit of a risk in using such dense colour and having pretty specific alignments (which can make the print look a little wonky or patchy due to the risograph print process), but I’m more than happy to surrender to the whim of risograph and embrace any imperfections.

It’s definitely a great challenge to limit yourself to working with a restricted colour palette, it forces you to really consider the contrast of the piece and make a few visual decisions that you might not normally go for. I think it’s always a useful exercise to omit a few elements from your usual working style every so often: don’t use outlines, limit your palette, draw with your other hand etc, it shakes things up and can really push your work in new directions – give it a shot!


Limited edition riso prints will be available at the exhibition at Shebeen Festival, Manchester on Saturday 2nd May, pop down if you get the chance!